Food Safety

Purchasing

Fresh finfish are easily recognized by sight, smell, and touch. In whole fish, the eyes should be shiny and bright (although direct contact with ice can cloud them). Avoid fish with sunken or bloody eyes. Also, look for moist, shining skin with tight scales and red to pinkish gills.

When buying fish fillets or steaks, look for translucent flesh that is consistent in color and brightness. In all cases, flesh should be firm and elastic. There should be no separation or gaping between the muscle segments and no signs of drying along the edges. Frozen seafood packages should be intact and there should be no visible signs of ice crystals.

The most important, and most often misunderstood, characteristic is odor. Fresh fish should have a fresh ocean or seaweed scent.

The shells of live clams, oysters, and mussels should be tightly closed or should close when tapped. The flesh of shrimp should be firm and full, not soft and mushy. Again, the odor should be fresh and clean. Color varies depending upon the species of shrimp.

Handling

Always store seafood in the refrigerator.

Keep live shellfish alive until ready to prepare. Never store live clams, mussels, and oysters in airtight bags or containers. Live shellfish should be stored under well-ventilated refrigeration, not in airtight bags or containers. Live shellfish can be stored in a bowl, loosely covered with a damp paper towel, and then placed in the refrigerator. Live shellfish do better at about 40° F, so they shouldn’t be placed in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

The shells of clams, mussels, and oysters should open when they are cooked. Throw out those that do not open.

Fresh fish should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator at a temperature close to 32° F. The coldest part of the refrigerator is usually toward the back right under the freezer compartment or in the meat storage drawer.

Avoid cross contamination in your refrigerator. Make sure that juices from raw seafood don’t come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water both before and after handling any raw food.

Defrost frozen seafood in the refrigerator overnight, never on the countertop at room temperature. Always place marinating fish or seafood in the refrigerator until it is ready to be cooked.

More information is available from the FDA.